In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” the Midwest District is featured. The ministry is De La Salle at Blessed Sacrament in Memphis, Tennessee. The Lasallian Volunteers are second years, Ivette Morales and Rachel Waletzko, and first year, Jessica Kaluzny. Ivette is a 2016 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California, Rachel is a 2016 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, and Jess is a graduate of Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.
WHAT IS DE LA SALLE AT BLESSED SACRAMENT?
De La Salle at Blessed Sacrament is one of the schools in the Jubilee Network of Schools in the Diocese of Memphis. The Jubilee Catholic Schools Network serves approximately 1,600 students a year across nine schools—eight elementary schools and a middle/high school. Sliding-scale tuition and need-based scholarships make a high-quality Catholic education broadly available. All students are welcome: 87 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 94 percent are racial minorities, 30 percent are Catholic, and 70 percent come from other faith traditions. In the 2014-2015 school year, Jubilee students scored above the national average in reading, language and math on the Iowa Assessment Core Composite as determined by Riverside Publishing Company’s Estimated Growth Report, and their kindergarten students are reading at the 92nd national percentile. In January 2015, the Jubilee Catholic Schools Network announced that all Network schools would be transitioning into a 200-day, year-round school calendar in order to better serve its students. This calendar will provide students more time for learning and less time for forgetting. In addition, Jubilee scholarships follow students to all Catholic middle schools and high schools in Memphis.
HOW DID JESS, RACHEL AND IVETTE BECOME LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?
All three young women attended a Lasallian college or university. For all three, the LV program was a next logical step for their journeys after college. Ivette said, “I wanted to give back to the communities that I come from, and I knew I would learn an incredible amount from the people that I would serve. I wanted to grow as a person, to challenge myself, and empower others just as others have helped to empower me. I enjoy working with youth, and I knew this would be a great opportunity for me.” Jess said of her decision to serve after college, “The reason I felt the need to serve in this capacity after graduating is because during college I fell in love with the Lasallian mission! The professors and staff members at Lewis were not just my teachers, but also mentors, cheerleaders and a support system to me as well as so many students. These relationships impacted me so much and have helped shaped who I am as a person.” Rachel shared these sentiments when she said, “I also joined the program because I loved the idea of doing a year or two of service and giving students in underprivileged areas, through education, a greater opportunity to access their fullest potential and, therefore, the love of God!
WHAT IS THE SERVICE THAT JESS, IVETTE AND RACHEL PROVIDE?
Rachel is the second and third grade reading co-teacher, and the kindergarten and third grade religion teacher. Jess teaches religion to first, second and fourth grade, as well as art to first, third and fourth grade. Additionally, she is an aide in the classroom during reading for kindergarten and second grade. Ivette is the fifth and sixth grade religion teacher, the sixth through eighth grade performing arts teacher, the breakfast coordinator and lunch coordinator. All three volunteers serve as after-care
HOW DO THESE VOLUNTEERS TOUCH MINDS AND HEARTS AT THEIR SERVICE SITE?
The entire culture of Blessed Sacrament allows these volunteers to touch the hearts and minds of the students. The mission of the school is geared toward the success of the students for today and into their future. This is meaningful to our students and they approach their service differently but for the same goal. Ivette said, “They need me to be someone who understands them from a cultural and socio-economic perspective. My students are extremely diverse and their cultural and socio-economic backgrounds shapes how they navigate the world, and I need to be aware of that to be a better educator for them.” Jess said of her participation in the educational salvation of her students, “I think that the students need many cheerleaders in their lives, as we all do, and I feel I am very equipped to be that person for them. I am a new face, a positive person, and have lots of love to give. I am excited to watch the students grow this year in so many ways and to be there through the whole process. I want them to know that I care a lot for them, and that I am here for them.” Rachel echoed her community members when she said, “I do my best to allow students to be heard, ask students what they need from me, and take care to frequently remind them WHY the expectations and procedures exist.”
HOW HAS LIVING WITH THE DE LA SALLE CHRISTIAN BROTHERS IMPACTED JESS, RACHEL AND IVETTE AS LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?
Each one of our volunteers had a unique Lasallian college experience. However, the constant presence in their lives has been the Brothers of the Christian Schools who have helped to nurture their love for the Lasallian mission in unique ways. Ivette said, “The Brothers have taught me so much, from conversations about Church history, politics, theology, philosophy, and just life lessons. It is so wonderful to be a part of their lives, and I have grown to love them very much; they’ve become a part of my family. I know that I can go to them and seek their advice with many aspects of my life. My heart has grown larger and I’ve become so much more appreciative of the Christian Brothers and the Lasallian Mission.” Jess said of being in community with the Brothers in Memphis, “I have loved working alongside them, and I knew the transition to a new community of Brothers would be rewarding. They have welcomed me with open arms, and have been such a light to me. I look forward to getting to know them better!” Rachel summed up her community members’ thoughts when she said, “By being involved with the Christian Brothers, I have learned a great deal about the blessings of education – ‘blessings’ being truth, being ‘free of superficiality’ as our chaplain said, and not always joy. In realizing and discussing those blessings with the Brothers, I have gained a greater appreciation and humility for the days of joy and cooperation and the great responsibility of the ministry we’re doing through education.”
WHAT DO THE VOLUNTEERS IN THE 2017-2018 COHORT SAY TO COLLEGE SENIORS ABOUT THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEER PROGRAM?
Our volunteers are very passionate about inviting other young people to discern Lasallian Volunteers. Rachel said, “Whether or not you plan to be a teacher in the future, Lasallian Volunteers is a way to bring people together to serve those in greatest need. If that idea lights a flame inside of you, you’re in the right place.” Jess agreed and said, “I knew that by volunteering I could receive experience in a field I was passionate about and also figure out what I wanted to pursue professionally long term. Going into a service year is allowing me to carry out further discernment while productively serving others.” Ivette summed up their answers perfectly with her own thoughts when she said, “It is the most rewarding experience I have ever had. Your students/clients will move you in ways you would never expect, and they will touch the deepest part of your heart and soul. If you pour into them, they will undoubtedly pour into you, and it is such a wonderful and beautiful relationship. Yes, it is challenging, but the challenges you face will help you grow into a better person, a more understanding and loving person.”